Latin America File: Mexico waits for PRD to perform

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The Independent Online
MEXICO CITY - The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has retained what it has held for 65 years - the presidency of Mexico and majorities in both the Chamber of Deputies and Senate. On the face of it, it looks like nothing has changed.

There is, however, far more to the results of last weekend's elections than meets the eye. Half of those who voted supported the PRI and its presidential candidate, Ernesto Zedillo. The other half voted for change, most opting for the conservative National Action Party (Pan), others for the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).

Many who voted for the PRI, however, may also have been voting for change, that is, a continuation of changes initiated by Carlos Salinas de Gortari, President for the past six years, or those pledged by Mr Zedillo. Mr Salinas has transformed the economy, hauled inflation down from three to single digits and taken Mexico into the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The January guerrilla uprising in the south-eastern state of Chiapas showed he had dragged his feet on political and social reforms but he was smart enough to speed those up over the last few months. Many people will have voted as much for Mr Salinas as for Mr Zedillo.

On top of that, Mr Zedillo campaigned on a platform of change. 'Change in peace' was one of his campaign slogans. It was a masterstroke, at once turning the nation's tangible desire for change into a vote-winner and branding the opposition, notably the PRD, as proponents of change with instability.

Since Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the PRD leader, has always spoken out against violence, there was more than a hint of dirty tricks in the PRI's campaigning. Even before the campaign, 250 PRD militants had died in mysterious circumstances during Mr Salinas' term.

The elections, though billed as the cleanest ever, were a masterpiece of pulling the wool over the eyes of the world. Ideological issues were barely discussed. Hardly surprising, since the PRI's only true ideology has been the retention of power.

Even if widespread cheating, reported by independent observers, was not enough to change the result, the PRI had all the cards marked in advance. It then encouraged foreign journalists to come to give credence to the cleanliness of the vote.

Most of the international observers fell into the trap, failing to understand how the PRI's state-party system controls people through unions, peasant organisations, subsidies and intimidation. It is impossible to know how many vote for the PRI by pure choice but it is hard to imagine the number is high.

Mr Zedillo's immediate task will be to turn Mr Salinas' macroeconomic successes into jobs. He will have to transform the justice system to create civil rights for the poor, including millions of marginalised Indians. With comfortable majorities in both chambers, he will have no excuses.

The Pan's upsurge ended up helping the PRI to win by marginalising Mr Cardenas and his PRD. Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, the Pan candidate, appeared to back off campaigning once he had reached the 30 percentage- point mark in opinion polls. Many believe he and Mr Zedillo reached a deal.

Mr Zedillo will have more trouble dealing with Mr Cardenas, who has called a mass anti-fraud protest for the centre of Mexico City tomorrow. One fear expressed by some intellectuals is that Mr Cardenas' slide to a distant third will lead to a resurgence of extreme left-wing groups, possibly urban guerrillas, and perhaps linking up with the Zapatista guerrillas in Chiapas.